Coronavirus lockdowns mute celebrations on Victory Day's 75th anniversary

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Friday, May 8, 2020
This May 6, 2020, photo shows the World War II Memorial in Washington. May 8, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender, ending World War II in Europe.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky-AP

WASHINGTON -- On Friday's 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, talk of war is afoot again -- this time against a disease that has killed at least a quarter of a million people worldwide.

Instead of parades, remembrances and one last great hurrah for veterans now mostly in their nineties, it's a time of coronavirus lockdown and loneliness, with memories bitter and sweet -- sometimes with a lingering Vera Lynn song evergreen in the background.

For so many who went through the horrific 1939-1945 years and enjoyed peace since, Friday felt as suffocating as the thrill of victory was liberating three quarters of a century ago.

Eight World War II veterans -- the youngest of them age 96 -- will join President Donald Trump at a wreath-laying ceremony Friday. Their hopes to mark the day in Moscow were dashed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

White House officials described the veterans as "choosing nation over self" by joining Trump at the World War II Memorial ceremony.

"These heroes are living testaments to the American spirit of perseverance and victory, especially in the midst of dark days," White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

The veterans joining Trump include Gregory Melikian, 97, of Phoenix, who sent the coded message to the world that the Germans had unconditionally surrendered.

Participants in the D-Day invasion that turned the tide in the war include Steven Melnikoff, 100, of Cockeysville, Maryland; Guy Whidden, 97, of Braddock Heights, Maryland; Harold Angle, 97, of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania; and Frank Devita, 96, of Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Other veterans joining Trump are Donald Halverson, 97, of Minnesota, who fought in some of the war's fiercest fighting in Italy, John Coates, 96, of Maryland, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and Jack Myers, 97, of Hagerstown, Maryland, was part of a unit that liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

Timothy Davis, director of the Greatest Generations Foundation, which helps veterans return to the countries where they fought, said the U.S. soldiers were originally slated to travel to Moscow for a commemoration event. He said that with international travel out of the question during the pandemic, the veterans talked to him about trying to commemorate the day in Washington.

"Of course, we presented to them the risk we are facing," Davis said. "They said, 'It doesn't matter, Tim,'" and asked him to press ahead, saying they viewed the commemoration as "a blessing to all who fought, died and served in World War II."